The espionage action thriller was a mainstay of 90s cinema; and the novels of Tom Clancy were their bibles. While the continuation of Clancy’s characters and storylines continues through the 2000s, it wasn’t until Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Sicario came along that the movie going public seemed back on board the espionage train. Now, the government conspiracy gods has returned to kick off a new series of the Clancy film universe with the release of, Without Remorse.
US Navy Seal John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) is the epitome of what they Army expects from their elite, black-ops operatives. Well trained, confident, and one complete and utter bad ass. He isn’t a superhero, but he is the closest thing the real world has. After a successful, though messy mission in Syria–lead by the CIA–Kelly and his squad mates are hunted down by a ruthless gang of Russian hitmen. These assassins complete their mission, but miss killing John. Instead murdering his pregnant wife. With the aide of the Secretary of Defense, Kelly is let loose to find the men responsible for this heinous act, and discover their true plans.
What you are seeing across the board from most reviews of Without Remorse, are very much true. This is as cookie cutter as a film can be within its own genre. The action feels bland, the story is run-of-the-mill and contains one of the most obvious red herrings in recent history. Even with a Taylor Sheridan script (Sicario, Hell or High Water, Wind River), Without Remorse fails to make an impression. In those Sheridan scripted films, there is a fair amount of exposition and detail to the surrounding events. That is what makes them intriguing stories. Without Remorse is focused more on the action aspect of the viewing experience, leaving the story as loosely fit linchpins to hold it all together. Even the flimsy story that does exist, just leaves the viewer with a morsel of anything that can be considered a theme.
The first iterations of Tom Clancy films (The Hunt for Red October, Clear & Present Danger, Patriot Games) definitely all deserved the thriller title they came attached with. But even with action sequences, these were not action films. They had a balance. There was mystery, intrigue, and untimely yes; some action. There were guns fired, people kidnapped, torpedoes launched; but those were outlying circumstances of a larger picture. In this case, the events are reversed which just leaves a pile of rubble and flames on your doorstep. Everything Michael B. Jordan can do to try and inflate an extra sample of confidence into the proceedings are moot and pointless.
Yet, for all its faults and errors, it would be wrong to call Without Remorse a bad film. It doesn’t drag to the point one has to look at their watch to wonder when it will end. It doesn’t dole out a cavalcade of awful performances. The only real cardinal sin it is truly guilty of, is being too bland. So, yes, we can say it isn’t a bad film…but on the other hand, what is worse? A film that rides the line and does nothing new? Or a film that lands on its face so hard, it becomes as strange cult classic that brings groups of people together to trash or maybe even adore it? The Room(s) and Toll 2(s) of this world, for instance. This is something every person had to decide for themselves, but more and more, this is becoming the dilemma of modern films– and its strange. Do I really enjoy Plan 9 From Outer Space over Without Remorse because at lease Plan 9 makes me laugh (even though that was not its intention)?
Without Remorse is the first step in a new franchise, as well. While the character of John Kelly (or John Clark as he becomes) has appeared in other Clancy film properties, this film is the attempt to create the characters own leading series. Much like the recent Tom Cruise The Mummy film, Without Remorse stumbles out the gate, leaving the balance of its following films in a peculiar place. That is of course, depending on viewership numbers. If enough people tune in to watch Without Remorse this weekend, you can be sure the next installment will be going into production. That is the 2nd worrisome part of a film of this nature. Hollywood can keep churning out films of from the same mold, one after another. As long as people will tune in and pay, another one is ready in the pipeline.
While people will still buy into a new Tom Clancy film project, his works seemed doomed to follow a pattern. This is not just in films. Clancy’s works have also inspired numerous video game franchises. Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon most notably. And much like the first few films to come out of the Clancy-verse, the initial return is positive and game changing. Then, a steady feed of the same old junk for years, until someone finally goes back to the drawing board and breaks out a Rainbow Six Siege. And by the rate we’re going, you have another 5 years will that film equivalent becomes a reality.
Final Grade: C-